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Speculating on the future of emergency care

What does the future hold for emergency care with a new health secretary, ponders Justin Walford 

What does the future hold for emergency care with a new health secretary, ponders Justin Walford 

There aren’t many in the health service who are sad that Jeremy Hunt has left his position. His replacement, health secretary Matt Hancock, seemed surprised at the low morale in the NHS.


Are we setting unrealistic targets? Picture: iStock

But is it any wonder when nurses have been lied to over their pay (I am yet to meet a nurse who has received their headlined 29% increase) and doctors have had to strike multiple times to get a pay rise.

These changes, coupled with a statement by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens who unexpectedly declared that the current four-hour target is outdated because of changes in treatments, have prompted me to speculate what emergency care might look like in the future.

Mr Steven’s words were less widely reported in the media than I expected, but they have big implications for emergency nursing and patients.

'The old saying "take care of the staff and they will take care of the patients" needs to be remembered'

The four-hour standard may seem outdated, or even forgotten in some trusts, but, for now, it does provide leverage for emergency nurses to enable a good journey for patients in their care, so any plans to scrap it need to be carefully thought through.

Weather factors and low morale

We are currently seeing a higher volume of attendances in the emergency department because of the recent hot weather and school summer holidays, meaning shifts can be harder than usual as staff do their best to get patients seen and treated in a timely manner.

It is important at these times that staff look out for vulnerable groups, including the homeless or patients who work outdoors, as well as the very young and older people who may need additional care in extreme weather, should the heat return.

However, the old saying ‘take care of the staff and they will take care of the patients’ needs to be remembered. Emergency nursing can be hard work at the best of times, with understaffed departments often operating at capacity, or overcapacity.

Rest, rehydrate and refuel

The RCN says to rest, rehydrate and refuel while at work. I second this advice and would also urge nurses to stay one step ahead by preparing mentally for the next potentially gruelling shift.


About the author

Justin Walford is senior practice development nurse in the emergency department at the Royal Sussex County Hospital

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